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Series Information
(Electrical Commission)

Series Description

Starting in the 1880's increased public demand for electrical and telephone services led to a proliferation of above-ground wires and support poles in Baltimore. This system, although regarded as a safety hazard and visually unattractive from its inception, was not improved until 1890. At this point, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company constructed a few underground electrical conduits in the downtown section of the city. The success of this effort, coupled with the overburdening of the above-ground system, encouraged the city council to appoint a commission in May 1894 "to study the problems which presented themselves in the execution of an efficient system of subways [electrical conduits]." The efforts of this commission concerned planning, but some conduit construction was begun.

Based upon the recommendations of the commission, the municipal government decided to construct and maintain an extensive network of subsurface electrical and gas conduits. The city successfully petitioned the Maryland House of Delegates in 1896 for permission to issue $1 million in stock to finance the project and a city-wide referendum approved the stock issue in November 1897.

In August of the following year, the city council enacted a series of ordinances relative to conduits creating an Electrical Commission to supervise the placement of all wires in underground conduits and to gather information concerning the type, length, and distribution of wires. On October 1, 1898 Charles S. Phelps, Jr. was appointed Chief Engineer of this commission and work officially began on the conduit system.

After some preliminary planning, the commission commenced a massive conduit construction program. Progress increased each year up to 1913 when a record 1,658,204 feet of conduits were laid. By 1918 much of the work was complete, with about forty-five thousand feet laid that year. During the 1920's and 1930's, Baltimore gained national attention for its conduit program. Most cities allowed private companies to build and maintain their own conduits; Baltimore, Erie, and Quebec City were the only North American cities at that time to own extensive conduits and rent space out to corporate users.

The commission was initially under the bureaucratic administration of the Department of Public Improvements. In 1927 it was reorganized as the Bureau of Mechanical- Electrical services and placed under the Department of Public Works. In 1967 the responsibility for the electrical conduits was transferred to the Bureau of Engineering, another subdivision of the Department of Public Works.

For additional information, see Charles F. Goob, Survey of the Municipal Conduit System. 1922; Clayton W. Pike, Report to the Public Improvement Commission of Baltimore Upon the Municipal Electrical Conduit System. 1925; Report of the Chief Engineer to the Electrical Commission of Baltimore for the Years 1898-1905, 1906; and the subject file of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland Department.

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DateSeries NameDescriptionMSA Citation
  Details1900-1938HRS Records

Mostly applications for duct space submitted by corporations, especially the Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power Company, Western Union, and Maryland Telephone and Telegraph Company. Applications specify streets, lot numbers, and requested duct feet. Also included are duct space leases, bonds, and statements of receipts.

See separate item index.

  Details1899-1914Electrical Commission LetterbooksOne volume of the commission chief clerk's letters, June 1899 - March 1906, and one volume of chief engineer's weekly reports to the mayor, June 1907 - October 1913. Twenty-three volumes of copies of the chief engineer's official correspondence on itemized charges for repair work by assorted city agencies and private companies; claims against the city for commission work done by individuals and private companies; communications with other city departments concerning conduit construction and maintenance; inquiries from individuals and other municipalities concerning commission work; permit requests; equipment and service tests; personnel matters; and duct space rental charges.BRG30-2
  Details1920Chief Engineer Adminstrative FilesPrimarily correspondence and memos with city agencies, corporate users of city conduits, and private contractors. Among subjects covered are accident claims against the commission, personnel matters, permit requests, conduit construction, maintenance and repair work, paving improvement, financial matters, and duct space rental charges.BRG30-3
  Details1900-1914Miscellaneous Electrical Commission RecordsVaried grouping of material including proposed construction specifications, information supplied by other cities, official reports, conduit construction accounts, construction change notifications, and pole applications.BRG30-4
  Details1900-1913Personnel Records

Correspondence, reports, and transcripts relative to 1906 investigation of Italian employees of the commission; lists of employees and rates of pay; and applications and recommendations for employment. A series of volumes, 1899- 1905, with the names, residence, ward, class of labor, date starting and ending work, and supervisor comments for employees of the commission. Entries are arranged roughly by year; an incomplete set of index volumes are also available.

Weekly payroll charges from January 1907 - December 1912 for various commission functions are available on microfilm (BCA 188).

  Details1898-1914Financial RecordsGeneral account of construction and expense journal accounts, October 1898 - December 1909, for conduit loans payable 1922, 1928, and 1958, with information on suppliers, date of bill, invoice number, charges for general expenses and monthly payrolls, construction materials and weekly payrolls, and services and distribution; this material is available only on microfilm (BCA 188). General account ledgers, November 1903 - November 1911, with accounts of suppliers on various goods and services used by the commission. Duct rental bills, September 1901 - October 1914, with a chronological listing of rental charges against various users of city conduits.BRG30-6
  Details1898-1914Supply OrdersOrders for a variety of supplies, materials, and services used by the commission for the full range of its activities. Most orders are directed to Baltimore firms, although numerous out of state companies are represented as well.BRG30-7
  Details1908-1914Paving OrdersRequests from chief engineer to the city engineer for paving of specific streets probably requested after completion of conduit construction or repair work.BRG30-8
  Details1904, 1910PermitsPermits issued by the commission to private companies allowing entry into conduit system for maintenance and repair work. Information includes name of company, specific location of work, reason for work, names of employees performing work, and commission inspector's report.BRG30-9
  Details1899-1902SpecificationsCopies of required specifications for commission work and materials with copies of bid forms presumably used by contractors and procedures to be followed when submitting bids to the Board of Awards.BRG30-10
  Details1899-1915Conduit Sketches, Blueprints and Plats

An artificial grouping of all graphic material available in the commission records. Sketches of distributing conduits located at or near specific addresses; conduit blueprints on main and distributing conduits at or near street and block addresses with correspondence attached; sewer tap blueprints of proposed sewer drains and adjacent conduits with correspondence and memos attached; conduit plats on main and distributing conduits at the street block level and information concerning adjacent buildings.

Conduit plats are available on microfilm (BCA 188). An item index is available at the Baltimore City Archives.

  Details1894-1897Electrical Subway Commision Records

A forerunner of the Electrical Commission, the ESC was established by the city council in May 1894. Instrumental in the planning of the conduit system, it ceased to function when its responsibilities were transferred to the Electrical Commission in August 1898.

Record types include letterbooks, May 1894 - August 1897 (3 vols.); agreements and specifications, 1894-97 (2 lin. in.); and a published annual report for 1894.

  Details1900-1905Municipal Lighting Commission Records

This commission was established by the city council (res. 11, 1900) "to investigate the feasibility of establishing a municipal lighting plant for Baltimore." The commission consisted of Jacob H. Hollander, Edward S. Baetjer, and Electrical Commission Chief Engineer Charles E. Phelps, Jr. Phelps apparently maintained the commission records with the electrical commission records.

Records include a letterbook, January 1900 - January 1905; minutes of the commission, 1900; questionaire responses from numerous American cities regarding municipal lighting; and miscellaneous items.

  Details1902-1908Sewerage Commission RecordsMaterial reflects the electrical commission chief engineer's duties as a member of the sewerage commission. Ledgers of daily payroll expenses for employees and miscellaneous items such as a newspaper article concerning the sewerage commission and a sewerage disposal report.BRG30-14
  Details1909PhotographsPhotographs of an assortment of subjects relating to activities of the electrical commission such as poles and wires, electrical equipment, conduit interiors, and conduit construction. Most items are credited to photographer Alfred Waldeck.BRG30-15
  Details1895-1905, 1924Published ReportsPublished reports of the commission's chief engineer covering the period from the organization of the commission on October 1, 1898 through December 31, 1905. Information is provided concerning conduit construction and rental, explosions and other accidents, conduit condition after the Baltimore Fire (1904), and the formation of the Electrical Commission and its powers and responsibilities. The volume also includes reprints of legislation pertinent to the commission, court opinions, and numerous tables and maps. In 1923 the Electrical Commission published its last detailed report. In 1924 the commission issued only a typescript summary of conduit construction and related activities, i.e. employees, salaries, materials, and expenses.BRG30-16
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